the picnic under the tree


These are the things I know: we made something outside and brought the outside/ness inside; we gathered the journey to a place inside ourselves and transported that sense, a sense of gathering and knotting together by sharing food and stories; a sense of play and history by mapping pathways with video, photos and gestures. We do not have the ability to rehearse what we are going to do so it is not until it is up and running that I see what it is doing. We make choices from past experiences as to what something can do; we make agreements about what we will do; we chose how we would place it in the space (I am not sure the placement will work for the audience) and we have a brief discussion on sequence. We use crafted choices and moments of chance intersection. The crafted choices next to the chance encounters create a more balanced performance. We cannot fix everything. We cannot know what the audience will do and we leave space for some intersection to happen, the choice for conscious choosing.

I am referring here to Doreen Massey’s work in ‘for space’, she speaks about ‘the surprise of space’, the ‘chance encounter upon chance encounter’ that occurs in the ‘constant formation of spatial configurations, those complex mixtures of pre-planned spatiality and happenstance juxtaposition’, that we find ‘the possibility of being surprised, that the chance of space can be found’.

That finding of ‘space’ could be a chance encounter can only happen with the correlated choices of preplanning.

In ‘Forced Entertainment’ we all see how ‘story’ is being woven in by naming the journey to the place and what happens in the place itself, Jan Lee takes this task on and develops a story about our journey. I am intrigued with lists as well as Chris and he takes on making a list that weaves our picnic to his past, Peet is enamored with the visual aspects of the place we are in and takes all of our visual impressions, videos and photos and makes a map, I am working kinesthetically in empathy with the tree, trying to discover its story.

It tells me about love in the carvings on its trunk and about wishes and the need to be remembered in the small tokens left in its nooks and elbows. It talks to me about slow change in its healed and scarred branches; it talks to me about patience and ease in its journey to its current height and placement; being in just the right time and in just the right place. It is consistent and rooted and solid feeling. But it is not still or fixed.

Inside this piece I see how a crafted choice did what we wanted, like my wanting to have twine as the vehicle to bring audience into the space from outside and what the knotting of that twine would do or not do, just like what JanLee and I together in her car did, got all wound up together, singing and laughing together as we approched our meeting place versus Peet and Chris arriving solo on their bikes did for them, envigorating them and creating space and softness in their bodies; to have food in this outdoor space under this tree, and so give folks a chance to enjoy some flavors by having a mini picnic indoors in the middle of the space on top of Peet’s giant photo collage of the tree we laid out on the floor,  which is what we did on our picnic. We shared a meal and shared some part of ourselves and we left this sharing at the tree. In this way this work feels representational. We re-present our journey to the tree with the twine, we re-present the picnic by having a picnic in the Uclub, we re-present our shared experience by doing a task together (being witnessed building the collage) that builds something which is what we did in sharing our meal under the tree. But how do we show time?

Doreen Massey speaks of temporality as  easy to imagine and space as something material, by placing time as a structure on things do we deprive ‘space’ of its own sense of place? The tree I am playing on has grown up and out for years, expanding itself by smaller increments un/seeable by the human eye but none the less happening all of the time, the tree is never not growing. It is never fixed or still, but we give it this orientation because we see it as rooted; we see the tress growth as time. My sense movement comes not from the development of layered sequences but from moving through space itself. It is in this way that I know a place and understand the temporality of that place.

Time is a tricky thing to “represent”,  And I am not interested in representing it. I am interested in what time does and how place is wrapped up in it. My body remembers a place phenomenologically. I can smell the grass and the hotness of the sunshiny places and I can taste the cheese and the strawberries. I can feel the playfulness and the pull of muscles when climbing the tree or the bit of wonder at discovering the little waterfall.

How do we play with time in performance? What does playing with time do? Do we get lost or more found?

As I climb the tree on a branch that extends straight out over our picnic spot, I find a different perspective I had not expected to encounter. I was 12 feet off the ground and about the same distance from the trunk of the tree. I could still just touch folks on the ground if I lay down on my belly and reached down to them and they up to me. It is still close enough to touch but far enough away to feel different. It calls to mind the ideas of vertical wayfaring. Me on the branch above the spot of our picnic, I am layering a journey and experience one on top of the other.  It feels literal but I realize it is what could work in in indoor space. To actually go vertical in the Uclub could place this experience of unexpected encounter inside that particular space.

I imagine going up onto the wooden ceiling beams and throwing down the trash that sits up there collecting dust. I knew there were things up there and it kept bringing me back to the tree and its carved initials and tokens in its elbows, and the small bits of trash or that purple sweater smashed in to the grass with things growing through its weave, how we leave parts of ourselves everyplace we go, and so we are not always in one place but in multiple spaces at the same time.